A Matter of Life & Death
By Evelyn Pyburn
The one thing the coronavirus crisis has surely demonstrated is how many people have no understanding about the economy and no respect for the role it plays in our lives – no respect for those who make it work. We are very much reaping the disaster of generations of limited economic education and the consequences lay before us.
Let’s make clear that the economy is not the stock market, ledgers, accounting schedules or a bunch of data points. The economy is PEOPLE LIVING THEIR LIVES.
Shutting down the economy is to destroy people’s lives. We are not all going “to get through this, together,” no matter how often the mantra is repeated.
Economic losses at every level of business are about life and death conflicts, every bit as much as the risks of a virus. It is without doubt a terrible thing to have to choose courses of action between the two, but it is even more tragic if the importance of one side of the equation is trivialized and minimized. When that is happening, how good can decisions really be?
There is little balance in the analysis that is taking place. When business closures are presented as nothing more than “minimal inconveniences,” it seems rational to conclude that the spread of the virus is the worst possible outcome. The need to shut down the economy becomes very convincing, if one doesn’t look at the economic side of the equation too closely.
Oh no, our leadership really cares. Such will surely be the claim.
The tone of conversations, directives or other public comments show little evidence of that. The tone of political leaders and bureaucrats who are still restricting the operations of business, as well as citizens who want to continue the shutdown, reveals that a huge segment of our population truly believes that “milk comes from the grocery store.”
Pleas to convince the public to accept the business closures blatantly trivialize the importance of business. They subtly chastise us about being resistant to their decisions. We are told we shouldn’t be reluctant to give up parties, dining out, having a drink with friends at pubs and bars, or missing a ball game. That’s all they mention, as though that is all business closures is all about – as though that is the only consequence of what they are doing. Given the reality, though —of people watching years and years of building a business go down the drain, food items disappearing from grocery shelves, or struggling to provide the necessities for their families – such repeated chastising is an insult.
From the beginning of decrees to close businesses— while there were lots of numbers quoted regarding infections and deaths, masks, testing and ventilators, and projected impacts of the virus— there was not one number quoted regarding the closure of businesses. Not one.
There was not even a warning about how many people should be prepared to lose their jobs the very next day. It was as though this was a very benign decision and no one would lose their jobs. There seemed to be no awareness that billions of dollars were to be lost to the economic base of our communities – much less any numbers to estimate how much that could be.
There were no decision- makers saying that many local small businesses may never reopen again. Or that over a third of workers would be unemployed. One comment suggested that if “only” 40 percent of business failed, that would be an acceptable outcome. A loss easy to bear, when it’s not yours to bear.
Closing businesses is apparently only about foregoing a beer with friends. How could anyone object to shutting down the economy?
Alongside not spending an evening at the pub, decision-makers might have mentioned the young single mother who is a server at that pub, dependent upon tips at the pub to pay rent and to feed and clothe her children. They could have mentioned her, but they never have.
I heard one astonished man upon hearing the decrees declare, “Don’t they know that losing a month’s salary for some of these people will take years to make up?”
No they don’t. Either they don’t or they don’t care. They would mention it, if they thought it important.
Among the other data they might have compiled and spoke about, as part of the public pronouncements, was the mention that maybe a fourth of businesses will fail within the next couple of years as a consequence of the closures. They might have compared the number of virus deaths with the deaths that would surely result from economic declines, including the increase in suicides. They might have foreseen the potential of food shortages, had they understood that “economics” is all about life and survival. If only they knew that milk doesn’t just materialize on grocery store shelves.
But since they never had to know, and those more knowledgeable always took care of economic realities, the consequence of closing businesses seems a minor thing. It certainly doesn’t compare to the threat of disease, a disease from which 99 percent survive. In that ignorance, there seems no reason to weigh pros and cons.
Maybe one benefit of this economic destruction – of which most of the consequences are yet to befall us — will be a better understanding, that the economy is not some esoteric academic indulgence for an elite few, but that it is everyday common people living life and without which there is no life.